CHIEF RABBI, HACHAM SHAUL KASSIN 5681 – 5779 / 1921-2018

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By: Words Of Rabbi Saul J. Kassin

The extent of Hacham Shaul’s respect for his parents had to be seen to be believed. My grandfather devoted his entire life to respecting his parents at the highest possible levels. This is no exaggeration – I remember as a young boy seeing with my own eyes how my grandparents’ entire day revolved around their tending to their parents. There can be no doubt thatthis is one of the reasons why my grandfather was blessed with a long life; after all, the Torah promised long life as a reward for properly respecting one’s parents.

Growing up, we spent every holiday with my grandparents at their home, and every moment was a profound lesson and provided an inspiring example for us to strive to emulate. They made meals back-to-back, all with no housekeeping help, and living on a rabbi’s meager salary. Even when I was newly married, we ate holiday meals with them. And on Hol Hamoed, my grandparents took all their grandchildren on trips by themselves, without the parents. My grandmother prepared and packed lunch and snacks for all, and we had a blast. These experiences created cherished memories which will remain with all ofus throughout our lives. We had the best time when all the cousins were together with our grandparents. Whenever my parents or uncles went on vacation, my grandparents were the ones that watched us. Until about 15 years ago, they were still babysitting. They were always concerned about each and every one of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and showered us all with great love and affection.

My grandfather prepared all his grandsons for their bar mitzvahs, teaching them the laws of prayer and tefillin, as well as how to read the Torah with ta’amim(the cantillation notes). He even taught some of his great-grandchildren.

When I moved in the beginning of the summer into my parents’ summer home in Deal, NJ, where my grandparents also stayed, I would find my grandfather – a man in his 80s –
in my car taking out the luggage and bringing it to my room. Trying to convince him not to carry my things was an exasperating exercise in futility. Yet, on the flip side, he would never let us carry his belongings for him!

The breadth of his Torah knowledge was awe-inspiring. Once, when I was very young, he was sick, and I read to him from Rashi’s commentary to the Humash while he was lying in bed. When I made mistakes, he corrected me from memory.

My grandfather’s knowledge was the product not only of his phenomenal memory, but also of his diligence. He was constantly learning Gemara, and it seemed like whenever we were at his house, he was making a siyum(celebration of the completion of a Talmudic tractate). I had the great privilege of being with him at the SiyumHaShas three times, once when I took him together with my wife.

For several decades, my grandfather learned Torah with my father every morning for two hours. But rather than just study, he devoted himself tirelessly to sharing his vast Torah knowledge with others, teaching hundreds – if not thousands – of students in Ketab Talmud Torah and Magen David Yeshiva Elementary School.

Hacham Shaul always spoke about and yearned for Mashiah. He had aspecial new suit waiting in his closet ready to wear when the time came to greet Mashiah. He also spoke of his tremendous yearning to greet our holy patriarchs – Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov – as well as Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi (“Rabbenu Hakadosh”) and otherTannaimand Amoraim. He said, “When I greet Mashiah, I’m going to give him a ticket for being so late, and I’m going to tell him: We’ve been waiting for you for so long!!

He founded Magen Israel Society, a tax-exempt organization to help yeshivas in Eretz Yisrael that were not tax-exempt in the U.S., enabling them to collect money. He and my grandmother worked tirelessly, on a daily basis, for this cause, and tens of millions of dollars passed through their hands. He never took a single dollar, and he andmy grandmother lived a simple, modest life, without any desire to excessively indulge in the materialistic pleasures of the world.

My grandparents were blessed with the great privilege of seeing five generations, and of attending all their grandchildren’s weddings – the last of which took place just about a month before his passing. They were even privileged to attend the weddings of several great grandchildren. What a fitting reward for a couple that devoted their lives to their family, their community and the Torah, and who served as inspiring role models whose example of piety, humility and selflessness will continue to guide us for many years to come.